The Oahu Bucketlist – Hawaii

The Oahu Bucketlist

A little while ago, Louise and I took a little jaunt to the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii – home to the well-known Honolulu and Waikiki beach. The great thing about Oahu is that there is SO much to do and you don’t have to just limit yourself to those beautiful beaches. As long as you have transport (renting a car is pretty straightforward), there is an abundance of awesome stuff to do all over the island. Here is our Oahu Bucketlist!


Exploring the Island:

In terms of things to do on Oahu, we can broadly split the activities we came across into 4 categories:

  1. Land based hiking/outdoors
  2. Coastal/Sea activities
  3. Food
  4. Culture

So let’s explore these one by one:

1. Land based hiking/outdoors

Oahu, like the rest of the Hawaiian islands, is visually spectacular. The volcanic island has some of the most striking scenery I’ve ever seen, if you haven’t been here before it’s going to leave you breathless over and over again. Here are some of the incredible things we came across during our short time there:

Koko Crater Arch:

This one starts right by the side of the road and is one of the shorter hikes you’ll find on Oahu, if you can call it a hike. Drive the Route 72 highway around the east coast and park near the Halona Blowhole lookout. The arch isn’t very obvious as you’re driving but it’s pretty easy to figure out once you’re on foot. A bit of googling will turn up some more specific instructions but it’s literally on the side of the Koko Crater and right by the side of the road.

koko crater arch

Koko Crater arch

Koko Crater Railway Trail:

Once a railway to the top of Koko Crater, now it’s become a popular hike for locals, fitness enthusiasts and tourists. The hike starts at Koko Head Park, and leads directly up the side of the Koko Crater. It’s basically one giant slippery staircase. You’ll probably need a shower when you reach the top but the views don’t get much better! I recommend starting early in the morning or just after it’s rained.

koko crater railway oahu

Dead Man’s Catwalk:

This was an incredible/illegal feature with stunning views of the coast. Sadly it was removed recently so we’ve included it only to warn you that it no longer exists. Sad face 🙁

Dead Man's Catwalk

Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs):

This is another illegal hike in Oahu, but it’s famous for having incredible views of the whole island. Many people do it anyway, despite the risk of fines, but there’s actually a back route that’s totally legal. In fact, the only illegal part of the Stairway to heaven is physically being on the staircase. Many people opt to take the hiking back route (the legal route), and then descend a little down the stairs from the top.. The back route is very weather dependent and can get very muddy. It’s definitely not recommended if it’s rained in the past couple of days (and please remember to pick up your litter if you go!).

@jveneklase thanks for sharing your pic with us all!!! Great shot!!

A post shared by Stairway To Heaven (@haiku_stairs) on

The back route can take some figuring out, but a friend of ours offers paid guided tours if anyone is looking to get there with some help. Get in touch if you need more details.

Makua Cave: West Coast

Sadly we didn’t have a chance to do this but it’ll be the first thing we check out if we have another chance to get back to Oahu.

Diamond Head:

I think this is possibly the most touristy hike on Oahu. Huge crowds but appealing if you’re looking for a very straightforward hike to a summit.

2. Coastal Things to do/Beaches:

 Pelée’s Chair, Makapu’u Tide Pools and the Diving Board

This is a great little hidden gem with possibly the best view in the house . It’s a little sketchy to climb, but great views if you can make it. Park in the Parking lot on Makapu’u Lighthouse Road and take the unpaved trail down towards the sea (off to the right of the road – Kaiwi Shoreline Trail). The path forks when you get to the sea.. take the left fork.

pelees chair oahu

walk the plank oahu

We’d heard the Makapu’u tide pools were around the coast, so we made the rogue decision to walk around the shoreline and kind of ‘bushwhack’ until we found them. Probably not the best route..

Instead, take the paved pathway from the same parking lot (on Makapu’u Lighthouse Road).  Keep walking along the path, look down towards the ocean on your right as you go along. At some point you will see a very obvious path downwards, that zigzags down to the pools below.


makapu'u tide pools oahu

If you’re going to the pools, watch out for massive waves! And also watch out for seriously sharp rocks…I definitely recommend wearing footwear in the water. We went to a Walmart and bought some water shoes for about 10 bucks.

If you’re worried about finding any of these places, I recommend looking on google earth and acquainting yourself with the lay of the land before you get there. Knowing a few landmarks in advance has always helped us find places a lot faster.

Hanauma Bay:

This is one is super touristy. Hanauma Bay is a protected marine area that is incredibly popular for snorkelling and diving. We got there before it opened and walked right in. If you get there after opening, look forward to enormous lines and a packed parking lot.

Honestly, I felt that the snorkelling at Hanauma Bay was a little overrated. It might be the best snorkelling in Oahu as the bay is one of the few places that is protected from the elements, but if you’ve done any scuba or snorkelling in South East Asia it doesn’t really compare. Still, it’s nice to paddle around.

If you can’t fit snorkelling gear in your bag, I recommend taking an hour at the start of the trip and raiding Walmart for snorkelling supplies. I think it was 35 bucks for a snorkelling set/flippers and it saved us so much money and time in the long run.

Hanauma Bay


If you’re looking for a good sunrise, Lanikai Beach gets our vote. It’s east facing and is also in a fairly residential area, so it’s not too crowded (at least when we went at sunrise).

lanikai beach oahu

As you get further up the coast you’ll notice the weather might start to deteriorate and the water will get choppier. There are some awesome surfing and body boarding beaches up the coast as you go (if that’s your thing) but we didn’t explore these waters too much as the waves were way out of our league. The North shore has become famous as a surfing Mecca, especially when the waves get bigger in winter.

Once we got to the North Shore, the three beach/sea spots that were on our list were Laniakea Beach (aka Turtle Beach), Kalewa Bay and Shark Cove.

You’ll know you’re at Laniakea Beach because you’ll see dozens of cars lined up along the shoulder. It’s kind of sad because the turtles have obviously been desensitised to humans and kind of get jostled by tourists as they bob around in the sea (don’t be one of those tourists; keep at least 3m back and never touch them), but at the same time…you get to see these awesome guys! Worth stopping in anyway if you haven’t seen turtles before.

turtle oahu

Kalewa Bay was a really nice and quiet stretch of beach slightly around from Turtle Bay Resort. Staff at the hotel told us it was a great spot for seeing turtles (we saw a couple), but it was a really nice place to hang out without seeing a single other tourist.

Shark Cove was another spot that was supposed to have mind blowing snorkelling. Again, we were kind of underwhelmed by it but I think it needed a calm day to really shine..When we went, the water was fairly murky and choppy, and we immediately cut our feet on the volcanic rocks as the waves bumped us into them. A site that’s probably better when the water is absolutely calm.

Lastly, we couldn’t write a post on Oahu without mentioning the famous Waikiki Beach! Not a bad place to hang out!

waikiki oahu


This is always our favourite part of any trip. Our friend @tiffpenguin was kind enough to send us a ton of great food recommendations, and we spent a good chunk of every day seeking them out and checking them off our list. The food in Hawaii is SO GOOD and has a really interesting mix of cultural influences.


If you haven’t tried poke yet, it’s is an Oahu speciality. It’s basically seasoned sashimi in a rice bowl and it is SO good. It was the first time we’d tried it and I don’t think anywhere has rivalled it since. If you can find Ono Seafood in Honolulu (it’s a hole in the wall), you’ll have found one of Oahu’s most amazing hidden culinary gems.


Yes… Spam.. I’m not sure how this came about (I believe it all started when it was brought in in WWII), but Hawaii consumes the most spam of any state in the United States – around 7m cans per year. You can find Spam everywhere, and yes you can even get Spam nigiri and spam memorabilia. I actually really recommend giving the ‘local’s breakfast’ at McDonald’s a try. It’s basically fried spam, rice and eggs and it’s amazing. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Dole Whip:

One thing that stood out above others in Oahu was the dole whip (pineapple soft serve) from the Dole Plantation. Seeing as we were driving through the area, we couldn’t help making a quick pit stop. It is AMAZING! My advice is to eat it indoors though because it turns into a puddle the second you step outside.

Oahu Dole Plantation


Pastry and desserts seem to be another speciality in Oahu. If you haven’t tried Choco Haupia pie before, make sure you stop at Ted’s bakery on the North shore and grab some (think banana cream pie but it’s chocolate and coconut instead of banana). It might be the best pie on Earth.

Liliha bakery has amazing green tea cream puffs. It was a little out of the way but well worth the detour!

The little town of Haleiwa on the North Shore is another quaint spot that is mostly famous for its incredible shaved ice store, Matsumoto’s. There’s a huge line and believe us when we say it’s worth it if you’ve never tried it before.

matsumoto oahu

Japanese food:

Hawaii has had a very strong Japanese influence, and as a result the Japanese food is out of this world. Back in Honolulu, the best katsu curry I’ve every had (apart from maybe Tokyo 😀 ) is at a place called “Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin”. It’s hard to find and fairly expensive, but seriously worth it.

Fish Tacos:

The North Shore has become legendary for its fish tacos. “North Shore Tacos” was one place we’d heard great things about and it definitely stood up to the hype when we eventually managed to check it out. It’s one of many taco eateries in that area but this is one we can definitely vouch for.

Another beautiful day at sharks cove !!!

A post shared by North Shore Tacos (@northshoretacos) on

Other notable mentions go to Sushi Izakaya Gaku, and Alan Wong’s restaurant.


I have to be honest, we spent so much time gorging ourselves and hiking that we didn’t do an awful lot of cultural activities.

There’s the Pearl harbour memorial for some historical background, and the Polynesian Cultural Centre for some more traditional culture and festivities. Due to Hawaii’s past as a military base there is a great deal of focus on military museums and memorials, but there are also a few interesting historical museums that explore the fascinating cultural history of the islands.


Where to Stay in Oahu:

The North Shore – Our experience

Our original plan was to camp on the North Shore (at Malaekahana point). Great idea in principal, but here’s a fun fact you probably didn’t know about Oahu.. it has VERY localised weather systems that are VERY consistent. In a nutshell, Honolulu is the popular beach destination because it’s ALWAYS sunny, and the North Shore isn’t because it rains a lot more. Of course, everywhere gets rain on the island, but as you can see in the precipitation map below, some parts are significantly wetter! That’s right, parts of the North shore get between 20 and 40ft of precipitation per year…vs 3ft in Honolulu.

Hawaii precipitation map

Thanks to for this awesome map

So after a night of camping on the torrential North Shore (could just be the time of year), all aspirations of a cheap trip went out the window. Instead, we went from zero to 100 and checked in at the Turtle Bay Resort (you may have seen it in the recent movie – “Mike and Dave need wedding dates”). This has got to be the best hotel on the North shore and is about as far from camping as possible. The hotel has huge grounds that you can wander for hours, a large golf course, horse rides, deserted beaches and lots of sea life to spot in the sea and swim with.

turtle Bay resort

If you’re going to try camping, the best advice I can give you is to make sure that you compare your campsite against the map above OR make sure you have a really, really good tarp for your tent (Try Walmart)…or a caravan.


Honolulu is where you want to be staying if you’re looking for the beach/city experience, and there are tons of options for hotels, ranging from the cheap and cheerful to the obscene if you want to be along the waterfront.

So there you have it, our brief guide on some of the amazing experiences that can be had in Oahu. Get in touch if you have any questions!

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Things to do in Oahu

By | 2017-11-26T05:07:09+00:00 October 6th, 2017|Bucketlist, Food, Hiking, North America, Summer Activities, Travel, Tropical, USA|2 Comments


  1. Cassie November 23, 2017 at 1:12 am - Reply

    Hi, I’m from Hawaii (Mililani specifically) and although your list is great a few things disappoint me. First, I don’t think stairway to heaven should be advertised or encouraged through any route. This hike is overused and has been littered with trash over recent years due to it’s popularity. Most of the hikes on Oahu are not regularly maintained and illegal. Also, spam is neither Hawaiian nor a delicacy. It comes in a can and you can get it anywhere. More people probably eat spam here but by no means is it a cherished “Hawaiian” food. In fact, calling anything “Hawaiian” that isn’t actually from Hawaiian culture but is just something in Hawaii is like calling anything you find in the continental United States “Native American.” The Hawaiian culture is it’s own culture and much of Hawaii has been westernized. People who live in Hawaii are not automatically Hawaiian and something you buy that’s been made here isn’t either, common misconception. North shore is not always rainy, like most of Oahu, it’s rainier from October – April, and sunnier May-September. Though it can rain anywhere on any day of the year, weather on Oahu is generally unpredictable. Malaekahana, like all camp spots on Oahu is pretty cheap, city & county camp sites have all the same rate and state camp sites have all the same rate, not because it’s the most rainy spot on the island. Most people stay in Honolulu because it’s the biggest city on Oahu and has the most hotels, the only county that is zoned for vacation rentals. The north shore attracts many day tourists in the winter because of the huge surf swell we receive every winter. Snorkeling any where up north is better during the “summer” months when there’s no swells and less wind. I also don’t think you should encourage turtle viewing or visiting “turtle beach,” actually called Laniakea. It’s illegal to disturb endangered animals while they rest on shore and so many tourists go to that beach to take pictures with turtles. They are endangered and come to shore to rest or to lay eggs. If you see a turtle on the beach, you should stay at least 3 meters away and not make any loud noises. So many people want to get up close pictures with turtles and to pose with them. This disturbs their sleeping patterns and forces them to retreat back to the water. Just some things to keep in mind if you take another trip to Oahu, and considering your site provides vacation planning services

    • Robin Tuck November 23, 2017 at 2:21 am - Reply

      Hi Cassie, thank you for your comments; as we’re obviously tourists in most places we visit, it’s always appreciated when we can be corrected by a local. I want to say first of all that no offence was intended with the use of ‘Hawaiian’, it was never our intention to appear culturally insensitive – we will of course change any references and are grateful to you for pointing it out.

      To address your points:
      1. I totally understand that you feel protective of your country and want to prevent it from being damaged and overrun by tourists. I do disagree with completely skipping the Stairway to Heaven on our list though. The fact remains that people will come looking for information about it and rather than encourage people to do the illegal version, we went to great lengths to encourage people to take the legal route. I also think it’s a golden opportunity to educate people about the damage they’re causing and to stick to the path/clean up after themselves.

      Regretfully, we have a big problem with every tourist wanting to see the ‘highlight reel’ in Canada as well, and it certainly detracts from the experience when there are thousands of tourists milling about. I certainly understand your anger and concern for the environment, but I don’t think it’s fair to deprive people of an experience so long as everything is legal and above board. To be frank, we wouldn’t have much left to write about if we took down everything any time a local didn’t want it publicised.

      Ultimately, the Stairway to Heaven is very, very much in the public domain. It is THE hike that people travel to Oahu for, and whether I write about it or not, people will attempt it. Better to educate rather than ignore the issue in my opinion.

      2. My apologies about the spam comments; I suppose a ‘delicacy’ was a poor choice of wording and clearly it isn’t a “Hawaiian” food. With that being said, in all the countries I’ve been to, I have never seen spam at McDonalds, spam sushi or Spam memorabilia before. While I can only assume it’s something kitsch and played up for the tourists, I think it’s fair to say that Hawaii (the place – not Hawaiians) has an above average penchant for spam. Regardless, it was noticeable enough for us to think it worth mentioning. Again, I didn’t intend to imply that it was something that Hawaiian people specifically enjoy or that it’s a national treasure, it was a lighthearted comment about things a tourist might notice.

      3. My intention for the word “Hawaiian” was simply to suggest that something might be “found in Hawaii”, I will make sure I amend any references and clarify.

      4. The comments about the weather were supposed to be somewhat lighthearted, but I appreciate the correction. I’ll make sure to change that section to something more accurate.

      5. Finally, with regard to your comments about the Turtles, much like the Stairway to Heaven, I rather feel that it’s better to mention it and educate people, rather than let them find it on their own and act disrespectfully. I guarantee that right now there is someone googling, “where do I find turtles in Oahu”, and I’d rather they hear that it’s bad to approach the turtles than not read anything about it at all on someone else’s page. I will happily reword it though and make a stronger case for acting responsibly.

      I’m sure those answers weren’t quite what you were hoping for, but I felt that your thoughtful comment deserved a thoughtful response.



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